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Appliances

Proper sizing and use can make these labor-saving machines more energy efficient.

Home appliances save time, make our homes more comfortable, and increase our quality of life. However, there is more to choosing an appliance than simply selecting the finish, features and price.

Finding a washer, dryer or refrigerator that gets the job done while using less energy and water has become much easier, thanks to programs such as Energy Star and the EnergyGuide label. These labels help you select an appliance that performs well, yet conserves natural resources.

Refrigerators: The Big Energy Hogs

Of all the appliances in the home, the refrigerator can be the most wasteful of electricity. Unlike other appliances that you can turn off, the refrigerator is always on. Fortunately, modern refrigerators are more than 75 percent more energy efficient than ones built just 15 years ago.

Whirlpool Compact Tall Tub Dishwasher

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Whirlpool Compact Tall Tub Dishwasher At 18” wide, this compact and sleek stainless steel dishwasher fits into tight spaces where other dishwashers cannot. Sound-reducing insulation keeps this Energy Star-qualified unit quiet during operation.

Upgrading your 1970s-era fridge to a modern Energy Star option can save you over $200 annually in energy bills. Rebates from local utility companies, manufacturers, federal, state and local governments are often available. Visit www.dsireusa.org to see what’s available in your area.

Besides saving energy, some manufacturers are producing refrigerators that simply do a better job of storing food. Smart refrigerators are able to moderate the humidity of different bins within the unit, which reduces food spoilage and waste. Fruit and vegetables, for instance, require higher levels of humidity and a constant circulation of air to retain their freshness, color, flavor and vitamins. Meats, on the other hand, should be kept in dryer, more air-tight compartments. While this technology can help you preserve your food, it does come at a higher price.

What to Know

  • If you have a refrigerator that’s more than 15 years old, replace it!
  • Energy Star–rated refrigerators can save you hundreds of dollars over the life of the appliance.
  • Size matters: One big refrigerator in the kitchen is better than two small ones (i.e., one in the kitchen, one in the garage).

Dishwashers: Quiet and Efficient

Energy savings and water savings are closely linked; the more hot water you use in your appliances, the higher your energy bills. Dishwashers produced before 1994 typically use 10 gallons per load more water than modern units. Considering that the average home washes over 300 loads per year, reducing the amount of water used can quickly lower utility bills. Dishwashers that offer cycle selections and energy-saving options can help reduce the amount of water you use.

To dissolve detergent and remove grease, dishwashers require extremely hot water. Many dishwashers now come with a “booster” or internal heating element that raises the incoming water temperature to the required 140 degrees.

This can allow you to lower the temperature on your water heater and still allow your dishwasher to operate at optimum levels. Some dishwashers offer the booster cycle, but only if you select “heavy duty.”

Along with energy and water savings, noise is a factor in choosing a dishwasher. Measured in decibels (dB), the amount of sound produced can vary dramatically by make and model.

Normal conversation levels range around 60 dB, so choosing a unit that is quieter than that is important. Because of advances in insulation and sound proofing, some dishwashers can be “whisper quiet,” creating as little as 41 dB during operation. That is the just slightly louder than the hum of your refrigerator.

What to Know

  • Dishwashers have two EnergyGuide cost labels: one for consumers who use electric water heaters and one for natural gas users.
  • Boost heaters generally increase the cost of the unit, but the energy savings can pay for the upgrade in about one year.
  • Dishwashers fall into two categories—compact and standard.

Ranges and Ovens: Smart Cooking Saves Energy

Refrigerators, dishwashers and laundry units may be considered “major” appliances, but they aren’t the only units you may have to purchase or replace. Thoughtful selection of ranges, ovens, cooktops, microwaves and range hoods can help reduce energy use while improving the quality of life around your home.

Ranges. The kitchen range is a dual oven/cooktop, and is available in electric, natural gas and dual-fuel. The benefit of a dual-fuel range is that it has the benefits of gas burners on the cooktop, but offers the stable temperatures of oven cooking with electricity. Cooktops are also available using electrical induction, which creates a magnetic field that heats pans directly, unlike traditional electric resistance coils, which use conduction to transfer heat.

Microwaves. Often an afterthought when finishing a kitchen, microwaves can create a more energy-efficient and comfortable kitchen when used properly. Energy consumption can be reduced by up to 80 percent when smaller portions are heated up in the microwave instead of the oven. Also, using a microwave instead of the oven will reduce the amount of heat generated in the kitchen.

Range Hoods. These are important in the kitchen for several reasons. First, the ventilation removes unwanted moisture, which could lead to mold issues in the home. It also exhausts heat, smoke and cooking odors from the home. A quality hood also offers task lighting above the range, which will increase safety around hot burners.

What to Know

  • Induction ranges are more energy efficient than traditional ranges, but can only be used with ferrous (steel or iron) cookware.
  • Flat cooktops are not necessarily induction ranges.
  • Most flat-surfaced cooktops simply use electric resistance heaters under a ceramic cover.
  • There is no Energy Star label for residential ovens, ranges or microwave ovens at this time.

Washers and Dryers: Advances in Conservation

The average American family does more than 400 loads of laundry a year, so even modest energy and water savings can greatly impact overall natural resource conservation. Reducing water while doing the laundry has gotten easier in the past decade, thanks in large part to the advancement (and acceptance) of front-loading washing machines.

While top-loading machines still have their place in the market, front-loading units use up to one-third less water, reduce the wear on clothes, and require less detergent. By using gravity to move the clothes inside the drum instead of a spindle, front loading washers also conserve electricity while providing more effective spin cycles.

Two terms to be familiar with when evaluating washing machines are modified energy factor (MEF) and water factor (WF). The higher the MEF, the more energy efficient the model. This rating takes into account not only the energy used during the course of cleaning the clothes, but also the energy used to heat the water and run the dryer. The WF rates the water efficiency of the unit based on its size. The lower the WF, the more water efficient the washer.

Using the MEF and WF, along with an Energy Star label and the EnergyGuide label can help you determine which washer set will conserve resources yet still perform well.

What to Know

  • Dryers with moisture sensors can greatly reduce energy use.
  • Most HE (high efficiency) washers use special low-sudsing detergent.
  • Energy Star specifications for clothes dryers go into effect in 2015.
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Image credit: LG Electronics

What are Smart Appliances?

ET READY FOR A whole new wave of intelligent appliances. These “smart” refrigerators, washers, dryers and water heaters can track how much energy they are using; those that are smart grid ready have the ability to shift usage to periods of lower electricity demand, thereby easing pressure on the electrical grid. For example, a smart washer can delay the start of a load to off-peak times, or a refrigerator can turn its compressor off for a couple of hours. Some smart features are geared toward convenience; for example, you can select cycles and start or start washer or dryer loads remotely, download new cycles or even troubleshoot problems with technicians. LG Electronics offers a smart refrigerator that will send you a photo of its contents to your smartphone, if you’re having trouble remembering what you need to buy at the grocery store. Smart ovens can download and store recipes (with photos), and smart dishwashers will make suggestions on the most efficient cycle for the particular load. Though many of the major manufacturers, including Whirlpool, GE, Bosch and LG Electronics, are starting to offer smart appliances, expect a greater range of offerings over the next few years. The expansion of choices should start driving the price of intelligence down.

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Image credit: Bosch

Save Big with Condensation Clothes Dryers

Clothes dryers are responsible for 6 percent of a home’s total energy usage, according to the Consumer Energy Center. This is partly because they use temperature-controlled air from inside a home, and then pump it out. In the winter, a home furnace must make up for the warm air lost. In the summer, air cooled by an air conditioner is used and re-heated in the dryer.

On the other hand, condensation clothes dryers work on a loop system. Air is drawn into the loop, goes through the dryer system and then is reused,instead of being pumped outside.

Though these units still carry a higher price tag, they do result in significant energy and cost savings. Reviewed.com estimated LG’s model, Whirlpool Duet WED99HEDW, can save homeowners 50 percent on the cost of drying clothes. Bosch makes a few condensation clothes dryers, such as the 24” Compact Condensation Dryer 800 Series. That unit consumes 311 kW per year, far less than the nearly 1,000 kW per year used by traditional clothes dryers, according to the Department of Energy.

How do condensation dryers work?

  1. Ambient (cool) air enters the dryer.
  2. Ambient air enters heat exchanger and is heated.
  3. Ambient air (warm and dry) exits heat exchanger.
  4. Process (heated) air enters drum to absorb moisture and dry load.
  5. Process air (wet) enters heat exchangers, is cooled releasing moisture.
  6. Process air (dry) exits heat exchanger.
  7. Process air enters heater and is heated up.

Drain. Water is collected and pumped into the drain.

    
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Energy_guideweb

Don’t overlook the familiar yellow EnergyGuide sticker. It holds a host of information that can help you find the most efficient appliances available.


Know the Lingo

  • Modified Energy Factor (MEF): MEF is the official energy efficiency metric used to compare relative efficiencies of different clothes washers. MEF considers the energy used to run the washer, heat the water and run the dryer. The higher the MEF, the more efficient the clothes washer.
  • Water Factor (WF): WF is a measurement of water efficiency that is calculated as gallons of water used per cubic foot of capacity. The lower the number the more water efficient the clothes washer.
  • High Efficiency (HE): HE is used to describe clothes washers that typically use 50 percent less water than traditional units. Special low-sudsing detergent is used with these models.
  • EnergyGuide Label: This yellow label created by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is on most home appliances, and will help you compare the energy use (and cost) of operating one appliance relative to another.
  • Induction Cooking: Induction heating elements heat only the pan and its contents, and offer energy efficiency by reducing wasted heat when compared to radiant and gas cooktops. The actual induction element stays cool, while the metal pot or pan up rapidly making induction heating safer and more energy efficient than traditional cooking methods.
  • Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE): CEE, a consortium of efficiency program administrators from across the United States and Canada, periodically compiles lists of products that meet the organization’s tiers  of efficiency, based on manufacturer data.
  • Hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC): HCFC-based refrigerants are the most common type of refrigerant used in the United States today and are considered significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

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